What I Believe about Teaching and Learning

This school year has felt like an emotional roller coaster. I know every school year does, but something about this year has made the highs and lows feel more extreme. I have felt more doubt and frustration about my teaching, and the educational system in general, than I can remember feeling before.

I'm trying to make sense of this. I'm trying to be realistic about the trade offs inherent to teaching. As a teacher I can be a changemaker, but I'll also be an agent of the state. I can prepare my students for standardized tests, but I won't have that time to do other things I'm truly passionate about. I can teach in a public school in Central Harlem, but I'll be giving up certain freedoms and resources.

At this point, I'm still processing some of my feelings of frustration and despondency towards the education system. I'll put those ideas into words when I can. For now, I want to try to articulate what my core beliefs are as a teacher. Perhaps if I can make these clear, and I can figure out how close or far I am to them currently. Perhaps I can find a way back to them, if I'm astray.

In no particular order, here is what I believe about education...

  • I believe learning should be joyful. I believe this, because I teach children, and I think children should experience childhood, which should be joyful.
  • I believe project-based learning and inquiry leads to deeper and longer-lasting learning, and higher interest from kids. I believe this because I think humans are inherently curious. Project-based learning starts from curiosity, and leads to discovery.
  • I believe that kids should be empowered with as much choice and voice in their classroom experience as possible. I believe this because kids are humans, and should be treated with the respect and dignity that humans deserve. I believe that when we control too much as adults, we strip kids of their dignity. I believe that power leads to abuse, and that empowering kids in our classroom is the only we to curb this abuse.
  • I believe in culturally relevant, culturally responsive teaching. I believe this, because culture shapes our understanding of the world. In order for us to reach new understandings, we have to start with what we already know and understand. I have been teaching long enough to have this confirmed by experience. When I teach a new concept, but ground it in something familiar, I am much more likely to see the light bulbs lighting up in my classroom.
  • I believe that teaching should be transgressive. I believe this, because my Jewish tradition teaches me that the world is broken, and that all of us our obligated to repair it. I do this by teaching my students to see the world as it is, or perhaps more accurately to name what they already see. Then, I teach my students the ways that people can work collectively to right wrongs. I believe this is the way to teach, because I believe teaching is about building a better future. 
  • I believe that you can't do any of this alone. I believe in working closely with colleagues, with students' families, and community members. I believe this, because I know I'm human, which means I'm fallible, and also sometimes tired. I rely on all of these people to teach my students things that I can't, to love my students in ways that I can't, and also to give me the support and love that I need to keep going.

In the spirit of this last belief, I'd love to hear from my community. What are your beliefs about teaching and learning?


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